CAR companies are usually seen as uncaring corporate giants, only interested in making a profit.
But one company with a very definite compassionate and caring side is Land Rover.
It does great work around the world with the Red Cross but it has a special relationship with the Born Free Foundation across Africa, helping to protect some of the world’s most endangered species.
And together they are changing the lives of local communities in remote areas of Africa.
This week Motoring Editor KEN GIBSON saw at first hand the work they do, behind the wheel of the vehicle that often provides a lifeline, the iconic Land Rover Defender.
Few vehicles have made such a difference as the Land Rover Defender over its 60-year history.
Besides helping endangered animals and local communities, it also plays a role in catching poachers
It may be seen as an outdated dinosaur due to be replaced next year but, as I found out in Kenya, it remains as effective as ever.
The Defender was born to roam the African plains where the world’s most rugged 4×4 is as at home in the bush as the wildlife. It’s in its natural habitat.
And the Land Rover has found its perfect mate for making a difference in the wild, with the Born Free Foundation.
Together they have been protecting some of the world’s most endangered species and helping the local people who face a similar fight for survival in remote places where walking is still the only way to get around for many.
And we were given an exclusive glimpse into the remarkable work they are doing in Kenya — just one of the countries where they are helping to improve lives.
Our trip was even more positive as we delivered a new Defender donated by Land Rover to Born Free to work in the Amboseli region that lies in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The only way to travel to Amboseli by road — make that dirt track — is in a 4×4 Defender. The alternative is a small jet to the tiny runway, which is how we got there. I then presented the Defender keys to Will Travers, president of Born Free and son of Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna. They played conservationists Joy and George Adamson in the memorable 1966 film Born Free — which led to the organisation being founded.
On arrival I drove straight to work at Born Free’s latest project, helping to erect a predator-proof boma, or livestock enclosure, to protect the local Masai tribe’s animals from lions and jackals.
Born Free has developed a new, much more effective version of the traditional boma and is building 150 for local people. Because the new bomas protect livestock so well, it means the Masai no longer hunt down and kill lions as they did previously when their livestock had been killed.
The Defender gets us to places other vehicles can’t reach
As Will Travers explained: “We are dramatically reducing the number of livestock killed and at the same time preserving the lion population in the region.”
Just getting to the boma was a bonejarring ride over dirt tracks with jagged ruts that made even Britain’s pot-holed roads look smooth.
As it was the rainy season the tracks were like a mudbath in places, but the Defender simply waded through.
It’s an unforgiving minefield of terrain that would break most other vehicles but the Defender relishes the conditions. The worse they become, the happier it is. And as I found when I gave six Masai ladies a lift, to them it was like getting a ride in a Rolls-Royce, whereas in truth the Defender has to be one of the most uncomfortable things to travel in, as you feel every bump.
But if it saves you walking up to eight miles in a day, it is the vehicle that dreams are made of.
On the second day we visited a school where Born Free has helped to build classrooms and a dormitory, where young children can sleep rather than walking miles to and from school.
The dorm is making a huge difference in encouraging more children to attend school. Naturally, their performance levels are rising as a result.
And the kids, like the grown-ups, were fascinated by the Land Rover. We were swamped by excited young children who clambered all over the Defender as if it was an exotic supercar.
But perhaps the most poignant sight was when a huge elephant accepted the Defender into its terrain as if it were an old friend.
The Defender is about as unsophisticated as a 2014 vehicle can get, but it is brilliant when it comes to coping with the worst conditions nature can throw at it.
It’s the same with the 2.2litre diesel engine, which is rough and ready but has the power and reliability that count in an area where AA patrols definitely don’t operate.
But the best person to sum up just how effective the Defender remains is Will Travers, who says simply: “The Defender gets us to places other vehicles can’t reach, then it does the job and gets us out, whatever the conditions.
“It’s played a vital part for Born Free and helped us save the lives of starving animals in remote areas during droughts.
“Besides helping endangered animals and local communities, it also plays a role in catching poachers, which remains a major problem.”
Land Rover has completed the design for the all-new Defender and its engineers are fine-tuning it ready for when it goes on sale late next year or in 2016.
But the motoring world is unlikely to see a vehicle quite like the Defender ever again.
To find out more about the Born Free Foundation or to make a donation, visit bornfree.org.uk/lions.